The Elijah Syndrome

January 15, 2009 at 6:14 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

elijah-syndromeI woke up one morning recently to realize I was suffering from the Elijah Syndrome. And had been for months. Some might simply label this malady as depression, but the cause and effects of this form of anti-climactic depression so perfectly mirror that ancient prophet’s symptoms that I’m forced to adopt his name and look to his story for a solution.

Do me a favor and take a quick look at First Kings 18-19. The setting is the kingdom of Israel, during the despicable reign of King Ahab and his witch-of-a-wife, Jezebel. With a bounty on his head for predicting a lengthy drought, the prophet Elijah sends a message to the king, telling him to meet him on the top of Mount Caramel for a show-down-between Yahweh and Baal. There, 450 priests of Baal dance and scream and cut themselves in worship to a false deity who leaves them unanswered. Elijah builds an altar, cuts up the meat, pours gallons of water over the whole sacrifice and offers this prayer: “Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me that this people may know that Thou, O Yahweh, art God.” In a flash of heat and light, fire falls from heaven and consumes the sacrifice, the altar and even the trench of water surrounding it. In a burst of spontaneous worship, the people shout “Yahweh is God!” and put to death the false priests of Baal. In a final climax Elijah announces the coming rain and, overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, outruns the king’s chariot. Just like that. Victory after victory. Miracle after miracle. God’s power displayed to and in and through Elijah.

You know what Elijah did next?

He fled into the wilderness, threw himself down under a juniper tree and begged to die.

I completely understand why Elijah reacted the way he did. I’ve done the same thing over and over again. Recently it was in response to circumstances in a relationship. I’d spent midnight hours on my face on the floor of my room weeping and praying for two very specific things. Unlikely things. Practical things. But things that I felt certain would clearly demonstrate God’s hand. Then, just like that, both came true, leaving me overwhelmed, shaking and amazed.

In Elijah’s story, it’s easy to overlook the subtle cause of his depression. God had just displayed His power and shown Himself to be true. The next day, what had changed? Nothing. That was the very core of Elijah’s despair. Nothing changed. Elijah had hoped for national revival. Instead, he received a death threat from the queen. In spite of the theatrics God had thrown, the people had turned hard-hearted back to their own ways.

My story was the same. I clearly saw God’s hand in the answer to my two prayers. But those for whom I prayed chose a different path. Nothing changed. And as they walked along life, oblivious to my despair, ignoring all that I had wept and prayed for, continuing as they always had, I fled into the wilderness and begged to die.

Praise the Lord, the story doesn’t end there. An angel appeared to Elijah as he sat dejected and ordered him to eat and drink and sent him off for a mountain-top experience. As he waited on the mountain, Yahweh came to Elijah and asked him, “What are you doing here?” Behold the prophet’s response: “I have been very zealous for You, but Your people have forsaken You and torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets and only I am left! And they want to kill me, too.” Yahweh’s next words, “Go out and stand before Me on the mountain.”

And behold! Yahweh was passing by! A hurricane wind was tearing up the mountain, sending boulders skipping like gravel. But Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind the ground shook and trembled, but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, thunder and lightening flashed and a huge flame of fire raged, but Yahweh was not in the fire. But after the fire had passed, a gentle wind began to blow and that’s when Elijah rose and wrapped himself in his cloak and stepped outside his cave. Yahweh asked him again, “What are you doing here?” His answer was the same. “I have been very zealous for You! But look what they’ve done!” Then Yahweh gave Elijah something else to do. And He told him of 7,000 faithful men.

What a lot of theatrics just for Yahweh to give Elijah another task. But the lesson Yahweh had for Elijah (and us!) was desperately important. God wasn’t in the theatrics. He wasn’t speaking through wind and thunder and fire. Did He cause them? Absolutely. What was the purpose? To get Elijah’s attention. So that He could talk to him. Had God demonstrated Himself on Mount Carmel? Absolutely. Whose fault was it that the people hadn’t listened?

In this question, my own heart was revealed to me. When God’s clear evidences were rejected, I dived into a pit of despair, feeling weighed down, guilty and responsible. Hadn’t I let God down terribly? He’d given me this project, and I’d failed it. Depressed, I let my spiritual health slide-just like Elijah quite eating and drinking, I let my personal Bible and prayer time slide into an abyss of things long gone. “Just let me be done,” I whined. But God had more work for me. As long as I live, Yahweh will have work for me to do.

The theatrics-that’s to get our attention. God clearly answers prayers for many purposes. My response to those answers should have been to fall on my face and worship and press on in confidence that Yahweh is God. He can tear up the mountains with a hurricane. He can shake the earth with an earthquake. He can send flashes of fire to consume the earth or even my sacrifices. Whatever pleases Him. But He speaks to me when I am quiet, in His presence and, most importantly, eating the food He’s provided. As I stand before Him, honest, humbled and without excuses, His word reveals to me what I am supposed to be doing. Simply obeying. And leaving the rest to God. I’m not responsible for results. God displays Himself and people respond. I am responsible for my response to Him. I am responsible to trust Him. To worship Him. To be with Him. To learn from Him. To obey Him. In my obedience, God is most glorified.

The nation of Israel had rejected obedience to Yahweh, but Yahweh was not out of ideas. Nor out of control. His next task for Elijah included anointing a new king and calling and training the next prophet. When Yahweh asked Elijah what he was doing, Elijah’s response was this: “I. They.” He, too, had overlooked God’s displays of power. “I tried so hard. It didn’t work. They didn’t listen.” Yes, Elijah. But did you see what God did? It wasn’t about Elijah and the people. It was about God. Yahweh wanted Elijah to refocus. Elijah served Yahweh. Not the people of Israel. Not his own plans or purposes. “I’ve still got 7,000 men.” Yahweh told him. “Now, quit moping, get up and do what comes next.”

Move on. That’s Yahweh’s order for me. He’s in control. He knows the eternal outcome. Keep seeking His glory. Find others who love Him and will obey Him and pour my heart and life into them. After every dramatic triumph, the deadly depression crouches at the door, waiting to devour. I must remember that the battle is not mine. That victory belongs to the Lord. The results are not up to me. I’m not God. Like a good soldier, I must fall back, regroup and be ready for further instructions-always knowing that the outcome is in the hands of the God of Elijah. The One true God.

Yahweh, He is God!

Permalink 7 Comments